IN A NEW LIGHT
Paul Simon reworks old tracks for a bittersweet swan song. By TIM PRITCHARD
FEW MUSICIANS ARE as cherished or enduring as Paul Simon. With Art Garfunkel, he tasted chart and critical success in the 1960s folk scene. But the deterioration of their relationship led to a split in 1970.
Then 29, Simon went on to forge a solo career spanning five decades, 14 albums and across continents in search of stories and new sounds. His 1986 album Graceland was a landmark crossover album (and remains a personal favourite) for blending wistful pop sensibilities with African highlife rhythms and vocals by South African choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
So the announcement that his latest album In the Blue Light could be his last came as a blow. At 77, Simon is understandably looking for a change. And it shows in the tracklist: 10 lesser-loved songs from his solo albums reworked with an all-star crew to freshen them up, ‘like a new coat of paint on the walls of an old family home,’ as he said himself.
Opener One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor, from 1973’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, slows down into a blues shuffle with jazzy piano, warbling guitars and a sassy horn section. Guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Steve Gadd help to add a nostalgic tenderness to ballad Love (almost half the songs, including this one, come from 2000’s underappreciated You’re the One); and jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis adds a jaunty, Dixieland rhythm to Pigs, Sheep and Wolves. On Can’t Run But, Simon sets aside the breezy Caribbean chimes of the 1990 original for a staccato, symphonic whirlwind of violins and flutes, courtesy of chamber ensemble yMusic.
His farewell tour wrapped in New York in September, fittingly just a few blocks away from his childhood home in Queens. His parting gift, In the Blue Light, offers something new for even long-time listeners to mull over during his wellearned break from the limelight.